LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS®
Election Process - Looking for a Cure for Petition Problems
For many years, local boards of election have followed a simple guiding principle as they reviewed petitions in Maryland: if they could identify the petition signer as a registered voter, the signature was accepted.
However, in December 2008, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case involving petition signatures collected during a referendum effort in Montgomery County that changed business as usual in petition verification. In that opinion, the Court of Appeals determined that the statute governing petition signature verification, State Election Law Section 6-203, is mandatory and not suggestive. Section 6-203 states that to sign a petition, an individual shall “sign the individual’s name as it appears on the statewide voter registration list or the individual’s surname of registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names.” Thus, if a voter is listed on the voter registration rolls as Margaret Elizabeth Voter, in order for her signature to be verified by the election board, she must sign Margaret Elizabeth Voter or M. Elizabeth Voter or Margaret E. Voter. Other permutations of her official name such as M.E. Voter or Peggy E. Voter cannot be accepted. The statute affects petitions for new parties and candidates, as well as local and state referenda.
The issue raised by this court ruling is whether voters may be unwittingly denied the opportunity to participate in the petition process by failing to remember exactly what form of their full name is on the statewide voter registration list. Can you?
In the final weeks of the 2009 General Assembly session, Senator Edward Kasemeyer introduced an emergency bill, SB 1067, to deal with this issue. The Education, Health and Environmental Committee heard the bill, but it didn’t come out of the committee. This bill would have allowed a petition signature to be verified if the identity of the individual reasonably can be determined using the information required (name, address, birth date). Senator Kasemeyer’s bill also required that the voter’s signature on the petition match the signature of the voter on file with the election board. Presently, no signature matching takes place.
The League is interested in this issue because absent a legislative remedy, the court’s ruling has the potential to invalidate a substantial number of petition signatures without notice to the voter. We will be working with like-minded others to craft and support legislation that balances voters’ right to participate in the petition process with the need to assure that only identifiable registered voters can do so.